Punishment for failed suicide?

| November 28, 2012 | 51 Comments

Apparently, the military is struggling with the question of whether or not they should punish military members for a serious but failed suicide attempt according to McClatchy;

Last year, the 301 known military suicides accounted for 20 percent of U.S. military deaths. From 2001 to August 2012, the U.S. military counted 2,676 suicides.

It’s also becoming more common among veterans. Though timely numbers are elusive, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that 3,871 veterans who were enrolled in VA care killed themselves in 2008 and 2009.

Active-duty members of the military who succeed in killing themselves are treated as having died honorably. Active-duty members who try and fail may be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice if the suicide attempt is deemed conduct that causes “prejudice to good order and discipline” or has a “tendency to bring the service into disrepute.”

“You don’t think people will think less well of the military if people are killing themselves?” Judge Margaret A. Ryan asked rhetorically.

It’s a tough question. On the one hand, you don’t want to encourage suicide by decriminalizing it, but on the other hand you don’t want to in effect tell the troops that unless their suicide attempt is successful, they’ll be punished.

Category: Military issues

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  1. RandomNCO says:

    Here’s an idea…instead of giving them Article 15’s….how about freaking taking care of them? Not just physically (PT every day) but mentally.

    Those BS “assessments” they have you fill out once when you get back from a deployment isn’t helping. They seriously need to change the culture of the whole military. Mental issues, no matter what they are, are considered weakness and people are afraid of hurting their career by bringing it forward.

    Next thing you know, they have nowhere to turn, no support channel, and the Army wondering if they should punish people who need real help. No wonder they are killing themselves.

  2. Sporkmaster says:

    Because if the person is at the point that the are willing and attempted suicide that giving punishment will change their minds?

    Also I think that people will be even less likely to tell if they are having suicidal thoughts if they think that they will be at risk for punishment.

    I mean what is next? Have the military Chaplains have a suicide seminar and read the portions of Dante’s inferno seventh circle?

  3. TopGoz says:

    So the lesson here is: If you’re going to attempt suicide, you’d better be successful; otherwise, you’ll get an adverse fitness report for not killing yourself.
    That is some kind of screwed-up!

  4. Josh says:

    I don’t think that decriminalizing it will encourage it at all. No one who is trying to kill them self says “man I hope this works because I don’t wanna lose rank or worse.” Maybe decriminalizing it would take away the stigma and encourage more guys to go get help without fear that mentioning it will get them jammed up.

  5. NHSparky says:

    Great, that’ll cut down on the problem…**facepalm**

  6. BooRadley says:

    Decriminalizing it won’t encourage it! No one says: I’d kill myself but sfc lilyea said it was bad. I think it should be a medical discharge or treatment if feasible. I do think you probably can’t lead if you’re busy plotting your own demise

  7. USMCE8Ret says:

    Lunacy – and another knee jerk reaction on how to address an issue by those in charge who simply are out of touch with the real issues at hand. Perhaps troops of all branches will sit through safety stand-downs (death by Powerpoint) about Suicide Awareness and have this little gem pushed out as part of the agenda as well; “So if you try to kill yourself and don’t succeed, be prepared to have your rights read to you while in the hospital.” IMO, until the military adopts some sort of positive strategy in dealing with the issue and honestly taking care of the troops by offering mental health counseling w/o it negatively having an impact on careers or assignments, then it will continue to grasp for solutions that make little sense. There is so much worth writing on the subject that I don’t even know where to begin, as I clearly don’t have the answers… but punishing people for having problems will only broaden the scope of the problem the military is dealing with into the future.

  8. RandomNCO says:

    #6 That last part is not entirely true. One of the best Squad Leaders I ever had killed himself. He was a Ranger School graduate, had earned a Bronze Star with V device in Iraq, and was an E-6 (P) when he did it.

    Some people hide their problems so well that they end up becoming better at whatever it is they are doing to try and mask the real issues.

  9. 2-17 Air Cav says:

    The issue here goes to the very heart of the fundamental purposes served by criminalizing behavior generally. One of the purposes is to discourage others from engaging in the undesirable behavior or to deter the wrongdoer from repeating the illegal behavior. Another is to exact retribution through punishment. When it comes to suicide, I do not see either of the fundamental purposes of law being served. An individual who means to end his life is usually suffering real or imagined ills and uses suicide to end the physical or emotional pain. It can be a rational or irrational decision, depending on the circumstances. I cannot imagine anyone saying,”I was going to do it but then I recalled that if I were to fail, I would be prosecuted. So, I put the gun away.”

  10. USMCE8Ret says:

    @#8 – You’re right. I’ve known (or have heard of) folks like that too. Different people have different coping skills in handling their problems. Some people can immerse themselves in their work to try and stave off whatever is troubling them, others become more reclusive, drink excessively, lash out violently, or otherwise display a myriad of other “common visible signs” of distress that has been attributed to suicide. It’s unique to each person, but I don’t think that handing out punishments for people who are seeking help (but don’t know how to get it in fear of retribution of some sort) is the answer.

  11. Gumshoe says:

    I spend so much time dealing with people who make bullshit attempts at killing themselves. One guy took a few extra benadryl… another guy took 10 anti-depressants. Neither would have resulted in death had we not treated it like a suicide attempt; but we didn’t know at the time what substance they ingested (we assumed they were opiates, worst case scenario).

    They took good NCOs and Officers time away from the mission to deal with the incredible amount of bureaucratic fallout (each time I had to do a teleconference with the Division CG and every damn civilian expert on post) with BS attempts that hinder my mission. To take suicide seriously, there must be consequences.

  12. 2-17 Air Cav says:

    @11. The issue you describe falls under the category of Sewercide. The person is not making a serious attempt but is doing it for other reasons. Those facts PLUS a psychiatric evaluation that concludes that the individual was not yelling for help in the lame attempt but was most likely attempting to evade some undesirable duty or event SHOULD result in a prosecution.

  13. HM2 FMF-SW Ret says:

    @12 if the so called attempt was deemed to be for other reasons such as getting out of duty or some such that is still malingering is it not?

    The vast majority of suicide attempts are caused, as others pointed out, by individuals in physical or emotional pain. The culture discourages people for seeking help through stigma. No one wants to be seen as soft or weak in the military. Decriminalizing the action would not encourage suicide anymore than the stigma already does. Suicide is not the problem. The problem is PTS,deployment stress, grief and a host of other issues that are part and parcel of the profession. Working to reduce and manage the cause will reduce the symptom not the opther way around.

  14. 2BlueStars says:

    Monday I read and article on the suicide of a soldier while on leave. He shot himself in the head in his car in front of his mother, sisters and police. The toxicology report from the autopsy read like a pharmacy checklist for psychotropic drugs. These drugs are handed out like candy, lots of times mixed the most COMMON side effect is SUICIDAL THOUGHTS!!! What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another and it can take weeks or months of taking them before they build up enough to get the side effects. You don’t break out in hives, etc. like when you take an antibiotic, you don’t realize the effect until it is too late! If you miss a few doses these drugs cause you to have a downward spiral! You cannot quit taking them unless under a Dr’s strict supervision! A friend who is a nurse, her son suffered a severe TBI due to an IED, when he was home on convalescent leave she was horrified by the drug cocktails he was taking. Being a nurse she knew the affects and went with him to the VA and met with the different Dr’s that were each prescribing something different. Eventually he weaned off of most of them and is doing much better. My son is back from deployment and I think there are more of his buddies on these drugs than not! Every few weeks they are screened for PTSD and if they mention anything, like irritability or trouble sleeping, etc. they are offered drugs!!! Can they help? Yes, but they are not a cure all and not everybody will respond the same way! These drugs mess with the chemicals in the brain!

  15. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    OK … the act of suicide is a weak moment in time (a split second, may be few seconds or minutes). Absolutely preventable in all cases. In cronic cases where a subject is hell bent and/or has a condition that supports killing one’s self … well that is not preventable in all cases.

    Suicide prevention is a leadership issue and not pharmacutical issue.

    Intrusive leadership, sincere and constant concern for our warriors, and treatments that work are the answers here.

    As leaders we can do the first two … and that may be all we need to do!

    Often the case is, all the signs were present prior to a suicide … a good leader and his team is the best suicide preventer!

  16. 2BlueStars says:

    If suicide is so preventable and predictable how come family and friends can’t stop it? My mother-in-law committed suicide. Kissed her kids and her husband goodbye as they left that morning and went into the garage, closed the door and turned on the car.

  17. 2-17 Air Cav says:

    “The problem is PTS,deployment stress, grief and a host of other issues that are part and parcel of the profession.”

    Sounds good except that more than half of military suicides occur among troops who have never deployed.

  18. rb325th says:

    Part of the “mission” is to ensure that you have men capable of carrying out the mission, so while it may seem to some an astronomical waste of time for NCO’s and Officers to have to deal with a soldier who may attempt a half hearted attempt at suicide… it is their f’ing job to deal with half hearted attempts that may very well be a prelude to a full on attempt if their NCOs and Officers just treat them like a f’ing number.
    Suicide is not a criminal act, it is an act of desperation brought on by either a critical event occurring in the individuals life, or numerous other events occurring and the person losing the will to live or go on. it could be mental illness or a combination of physical injuries and mental stress.
    Remember “Be Know DO”?? Know your men…
    Punishing with UCMJ Soldiers who have issues with mental illness, substance abuse brought on as a result of their illness (physical or mental) is counterproductive and makes things worse.
    You will not make them better by restricting them to the barracks and taking away half their pay, or putting them in confinement, and certainly not by tossing them out. Sure at some point that may be required, but not because they got so desperate they wanted to end their own life.
    You cannot prevent all suicides, but as a Leader you best be making an effort to know the men in your command so you have a shot at detecting the warning signs. maybe some NCOs and Officers need to be held to the fire more for their lack of leadership.

  19. Virtual Insanity says:

    Our church provided professional counselling services from a qualified, certified mental health counsellor for quite some time. Unfortunately, she and her family moved.

    My town is right outside a military base.

    Care to guess who most of her clients were, and why?

    Let me save you the time. Soldiers, OEF/OIF vets, who did not want to have it in their official medical records that they sought help.

    This speaks volumes, to me, more than any study from DoD or elsewhere, as to the current state of the provision of mental health services to our Soldiers and the stigma that is attached to it.

  20. 2-17 Air Cav says:

    Many people in the military and not perform self medication, often with alcohol, a depressant. Their problems mount due to alcohol abuse, they withdraw, and never realize that their “cure” itself becomes the problem. I do not know what percentage of military and nonmilitary suicides involve alcohol or other drugs, but my guess is that the number is quite large.

  21. Twist says:

    As an NCO, even if you “know” 100% that a suicide attempt is being used to get out of something you have to treat it as real. I put “know” in quotation marks because there is no way to know if a suicide attempt is fake.

  22. 2BlueStars says:

    I have been prescribed these drugs. Paxil-One time the prescription had run out and I forgot to renew it, after a few days I spiraled and it was the most horrifying experience of my life. Another time the Dr. prescribed me Wellbutrin to quit smoking, I was fine for the first few weeks and then I literally wanted to punch people out. It was after I had called the doctor about my aggressive feelings that he told quit taking it, but that is a side effect for some people.

  23. 2BlueStars says:

    My son was home this past weekend on a 4 day with 3 of his buddies. One of them is diagnosed with PTSD, he was a mine sweeper and missed and IED that severely injured on of their Sgts. He is on so many drugs he is sometimes like zombie. I saw if for myself while he was here.

  24. Virtual Insanity says:

    This is interesting reading: http://timemilitary.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/prevalence-and-risk-factors_modified.pdf

    “One interesting finding is the strong association between adjustment disorder and suicide in the Army, which has received limited attention in the literature. One reason for this may be the greater likelihood of receiving a diagnosis for the disorder in the military as compared to civilian life (Casey & Bailey, 2011; Gradus et al., 2010). Whether it is a risk factor in and of itself or an early marker of subsequent affective or anxiety disorders, a diagnosis of adjustment disorder may serve as another indicator of heightened vulnerability to suicide in the Army.”

    I was told by a researcher not long ago that there seemed to be a correlation between the increase in suicides and the increase in recruitment waivers…he mentioned something about coping mechanisms that may not be as fully developed in a recruit who required waivers for, say, misdemeanor convictions, etc.

    I wonder, now that UCMJ is being considered for failed attempts if there isn’t some of that thinking involved.

    Thoughts?

  25. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    @ 16 2BlueStars … that is truly tragic, sorry for your loss.

    My point is that signs are often there prior to the act. Perhaps your dear mom-in-law did not project signs or the signs were not read.

    Again, a good leader(s) can prevent suicides!

  26. Chris says:

    This is very common in the military.

    Treat the SYMPTOM, not the CAUSE.

    The first thing they do is throw you on all kinds of medication that is not properly monitored. Then, after you are all drugged, you are expected to go back into the same environment and COPE.

    Treatment is just a “check” in the box for them in all military branches. They do not have the time or money to concentrate on identifying the cause, nor do they care……

  27. 2BlueStars says:

    @24 Both of my sons have had a suicide in their companies. Both new soldiers assigned to their units. One committed suicide over a girlfriend, the other NEVER EVER should have been in the military! I know that sounds very harsh, but he was pencil pushed through and literally could not function. The process to get him moved was long and he killed himself a day before being removed.

  28. 2BlueStars says:

    @26 Exactly! Plying people with drugs is not treating the cause! It is fake sense of wellness. These drugs are not like antibiotics that attack bacteria, these drugs ALTER the chemical balances within the brain.

  29. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    Suicide prevention is a leadership issue and not pharmacutical issue.

  30. 2BlueStars says:

    @29 so you see no correlation between the spike in medication and suicide? Even in the civilian world they give these drugs out like candy. Those teens that have gone on rampages have been on these drugs. Drs. prescribed them to my autistic niece and she went crazy but isn’t verbal but her behavior changed drastically.

    Imagine being prescribed anti-psychotic medication if your are NOT psychotic? Then mix it with antidepressants, anti-anxiety and sedatives all at once. Your brain becomes a stew of chemicals.

    Leadership is very important! Identify the problem and find the needed help and understand that the help is not always in the form of a pill.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/07/nation/la-na-army-medication-20120408

    http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/03/military_psychiatric_drugs_031710w/

    http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,169685,00.html

  31. Ex-PH2 says:

    All the psychotropic drugs have side effects and interact with each other, and the doctors all have a medication reference available to them. They just take the easy way out and dump pills on anyone without considering the drug interactions.

    I saw this with my father and tried to convince my mother to get his doctor to take away everything except his blood pressure medicine. And then I caught my mother stealing my father’s pills out of the medicine cabinet. So I have a very low opinion of doctors in general, and they don’t like it when I ask about side effects and drug interactions, which everyone should do, period.

    And yes, prescription drugs used improperly can lead to suicides. There is no question about that. I’ve seen it happen.

    But it’s easier to write a prescription than it is to listen.

  32. Common Sense says:

    It sounds like a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If you do seek help, then you’re labeled mentally ill. Does that result in a discharge? If so, then that encourages people to not seek help so that they don’t sacrifice their careers. On the other hand, you don’t want mentally unstable people on deployment, right?

    Regardless, making a failed suicide attempt a crime certainly doesn’t help someone who’s ill.

    Regarding training, perhaps a tougher experience in basic would help weed people out. I know from my son that the MTLs aren’t allowed to use verbal abuse of any kind, certainly no physical actions, and trainees can play the “stress card” if they get overwhelmed. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be deployed with someone who has to play the stress card during BMT.

  33. 2-17 Air Cav says:

    “I know from my son that the MTLs aren’t allowed to use verbal abuse of any kind, certainly no physical actions, and trainees can play the ‘stress card’ if they get overwhelmed.”

    Does being called maggott constitute verbal abuse? How about referring to a trainee as having a “goat-smellin’ ass”? Do trainees still march to, “I don’t know but I’ve been told, Eskimo ____ is mighty cold.” Or how about a platoon screaming “munch, munch, munch, here’s your lunch” while grabbing their private parts and directing themselves to another platoon? Dry shaving? Beat with a clearing rod? Front lean and rest for 25 minutes? Any of these things still okay?

  34. Ben says:

    Plenty of people attempt suicide for the attention, particularly women. I don’t know why people find that so controversial.

  35. USMCE8Ret says:

    @ 2BlueStars – In response to “….one of them is diagnosed with PTSD, he was a mine sweeper and missed and IED that severely injured on of their Sgts. He is on so many drugs he is sometimes like zombie. I saw if for myself while he was here.” That’s part of the problem. Many service members are given a cocktail of drugs to take without using counseling methods to help them learn new coping mechanisms to deal with things. (For example: Instead of prescribing Ambien to stave off sleep disturbances, often found in PTS, identify why the sleep disturbances exist and attempt to resolve it with counseling techniques, and only prescribe Ambien as a course of action while the counseling is taking place. At some point, a person would hope the person would be weaned off the sleep aid and be able to cope with the problem without having to rely on pharmaceuticals.) Just my opinion.

  36. Twist says:

    The cocktail of drugs is why I don’t go to the Army shrinks. The best help and counceling I recieved was from an old WW2 vet in my church that would sit down and talk with me.

  37. USMCE8Ret says:

    @#33 – It depends on what school of thought you belong to, and who you talk to about it. One person would say “you can’t say those things because it’s not P/C”. Others might say some of the physical contact you describe is “hazing”… and still others would say it “promotes good order and discipline”. I dunno what’s acceptable anymore because I’m far removed from it. I’m sure someone here on TAH can enlighten us.

  38. 2BlueStars says:

    @33 No those are not ok. Corrective punishment is very iffy as well. @32 my son went through “low stress” OSUT last year. You were allowed to profile for sore feet and mental stress. You did not recycle if you were sick and missed weeks on end either. Several of the recruits did not participate in FTX and were driven by truck to and from the Honor Hill ceremony, 20 of them had not passed the minimum PT test at that point.

    My older son deployed with a few who during the entire fighting season were not capable of leaving the wire at all! Even after getting down to 20 soldiers on the COP they could not help, they just stayed inside the wire. It was too dangerous to use them, both to themselves and others.

  39. USMCE8Ret says:

    Some of you may recall this was discussed in another forum, linked below:

    http://thisainthell.us/blog/?p=32164

    http://thisainthell.us/blog/?p=32188

    Still very relavent.

  40. 2BlueStars says:

    @35 Ambien can be horrible if you are suffering from PTSD! A friend of my son’s was in Brooke Army Hospital after losing his leg to and IED, one night he chatted me up on FB, it was late, he told me he couldn’t sleep and they were prescribing him Ambien, the nightmares were so bad that he had to be restrained. My friends son too said the nightmares were worse with ambien. And the absolute WORSE thing to do is drink and take Ambien! My brother was a contractor and he and his buddies went on leave and they would get Ambien before flying out, of course they would hit the bar in Dubai before getting on the plane. His buddy had taken Ambien and got up in a stupor and tried to exit the plane mid-flight! He had to be restrained.

  41. USMCE8Ret says:

    @40 – I cited “Ambien” only as an example. Trust that I’m no counselor/psychiatrist/phsychologist, and am sure Ambien (Lunesta, whatever) all are dangerous in their own right. Rx should only be used, in my opinion, at the same time that real, honest counseling is going on – not as a substitute.

    BTW – My thanks to your sons’ service and sacrifice to this country. I pray for all of their successes and safekeeping.

  42. 2BlueStars says:

    @40 Thank you :) A friend of mine works in mental health intake at a large hospital, she sees the effects of these drugs all the time. She swears the ONLY Doctors who should be prescribing are Psychiatrists!

    As a society we look for the quick fix. We’re doing it to our young children as well. Little Joey can’t sit still in class so he has ADHD. It couldn’t be that little Joey has tons of energy and spends from 8 am to 4 pm sitting in a chair silent..he can’t talk on the bus, can’t talk in class, can’t talk at lunch and has limited recess and then back the classroom again, for more sitting in silence. I homeschooled my youngest for 2 yrs. because they wanted him drugged. He matured a bit and went back to school and I never had a problem again in fact he is thriving. He wasn’t ADHD, he was a little boy with lots of energy.

  43. 2-17 Air Cav says:

    @37. Well, what I described was part of my BT experience and it was the norm. You got yourself squared away or some smiley fella in a different hat would help you with that. Those fella were not our buddies or our friends. Their job was to make themselves a common enemy for the trainees and, in doing so, create platoon cohesion and, at the same time, ensure that nobody even wanted to look sideways during instruction. Hey, that was a loooong time ago. It was a different world, both inside and outside the military.

  44. USMCE8Ret says:

    @43 – I recall the same, if not similar circumstances with my early upbringing in the Corps. What I endured then would be considered hazing today but I don’t regret it one bit. I learned that unless I fixed myself, someone else would come along and make my life hell.

    Sorta like that quote in the movie OFFICE SPACE: “…that’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled.” Well, that – and wanting to do the right thing and learning how to do it. I was strong headed and spent lots of time in the pushup position. Sorry – that’s the best I’ve got. (It’s been a long day.)

  45. FatCircles says:

    Just separate them from service. Provide help after their service if they truly need it but get them out of the position and allow someone who can fill it to fill it. Military has a job to do. We had our share of suicide Marines in our infantry company and they simply did it to escape their service contract.

  46. I’m sure it makes sense to some in the military

  47. Scubasteve says:

    #40, I had the ‘extremely vivid dream’ issue with Ambien. I stopped taking that pretty quick. I registered for online college classes, so when I couldn’t sleep, I got a lot of education in. And the best thing, when I pulled an all-nighter because I couldn’t sleep, the next night I slept fine because my body was exhausted. I’ve seen others taking it and be alert and functioning, but they’re asleep. Given a deployed environment, and all kinds of personal stressors, that can make for a potentially deadly dream.

  48. Scubasteve says:

    When I returned from Iraq, we did a reintegration and had to go from table to table and check all the blocks for finance, mental health, immunizations and all that crap. When I talked to the mental health Captain and told him I felt aggressive and perpetually angry, I wanted to beat the living hell out of stupid people, and I was driving in such a way that I would eventually cause a wreck if I didn’t calm down, he simply said: “everyone goes through that”, then he gave me a prescription for Fukital or some other crap. I never took the meds. I never take anything stronger than a 200mg motrin, and only then when I’m really needing it. A few weeks later, I was back to my pre-deployed self and doing fine. Others on the meds were now becoming problem Soldiers, having issues, nightmares, couldn’t lead a raindrop to the ground anymore, and were generally not coping. We didn’t have any suicides, but I can see how the cocktails of drugs could easily lead to it.

  49. Scubasteve says:

    @43 (IRT #33), I see nothing wrong with it. But there’s a new generation, and they didn’t get that tough love, they got a trophy and a hug. Unfortunately, the Army didn’t make new recruits meet their standards, they made the standards meet the new recruits. I think if we start at the entry level and set the standards and weed out the bad ones, then we’ll need less suicide training, less EO and SHARP training, and we’ll be a more fit, fully capable fighting force where everyone truly is a rifleman first. On the NCO Net on AKO, SMA Chandler asked a question about getting back to the basics. You’ll see 100+ replies about how his ass smells like roses and he’s got the Army wired tight, then you’ll see mine, asking him what are the basics, because as an Army we can’t even get that right and establish a baseline. Amazingly, it had quite a few anonymous likes and was a top post….

    I know, I ranted, but the bottom line, IMO, is the suicide problem is something the military has created by lowering standards and pushing social experimentation instead of focusing on closing with and defeating those who would do us harm. It’s war, not political correctness gone wild.

  50. streetsweeper says:

    Actually, you are not ranting Scubasteve. It has been a problem that is now being amplified by lamestream media. The comments and concerns posted reflect something I have going with one of my children and it is a learning experience for me, right now. A doctor keeps switching medications and is now to the point of being totally functionless on the mental level. I have to call and find out how she is doing (she barely survived a brutal beating a few years ago).

    Keep the discussion going because believe it or not, there are some people out here such as myself, that even though I’m not on scene and I wish I was, the advice and information helps tremendously.

    Also, this is something Army Sergeant has or was working on, passionately I might add. Too bad she’s not weighing right about now.

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